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the legislature, which it had constantly exercised for nearly seventy years. It is believed, however, that in each of these cases an examina
tion of the Constitution left in the minds of the judges [* 71] sufficient * doubt upon the question of its violation to
warrant their looking elsewhere for aids in interpretation, and that the cases are not in conflict with the general rule as above laid down. Acquiescence for no length of time can legalize a clear usurpation of power, where the people have plainly expressed their will in the constitution, and appointed judicial tribunals to enforce it. A power is frequently yielded to merely because it is claimed, and it may be exercised for a long period, in violation of the constitutional prohibition, without the mischief which the Constitution was designed to guard against appearing, or without any one being sufficiently interested in the subject to raise the question ; but these circumstances cannot be allowed to sanction a clear infraction of the Constitution.2 We think we allow to contemporary and practical construction its full legitimate force when we suffer it, where it is clear and uniform, to solve in its own favor the doubts which arise on reading the instrument to be construed.3
· State v. Mayhew, 2 Gill, 487. In Essex Co. v. Pacific Mills, 14 Allen, 389, the Supreme Court of Massachussetts expressed the opinion that the constitutionality of the acts of Congress making treasury notes a legal tender, ought not to be treated by a State court as open to discussion after the notes had practically constituted the currency of the country for five years. At a still later day, however, the Supreme Court of the United States held these acts void, though they afterwards receded from this position.
· See further, on this subject, the case of Sadler v. Langham, 34 Ala. 311, 334; People v. Allen, 42 N. Y. 381.
8 There are cases which clearly go further than any we have quoted, and which sustain legislative action which they hold to be usurpation, on the sole ground of long acquiescence. Thus in Brigham v. Miller, 17 Ohio, 446, the question was, Has the legislature power to grant divorces? The court say: “Our legislature have assumed and exercised this power for a period of more than forty years, although a clear and palpable assumption of power, and an encroachment upon the judicial department, in violation of the Constitution. To deny this long-exercised power, and declare all the consequences resulting from it void, is pregnant with fearful consequences. If it affected only the rights of property, we should not besitate; but second marriages have been contracted and children born, and it would bastardize all these, although born under the sanction of an apparent wedlock, authorized by an act of the legislature before they were born, and in consequence of which the relation was formed which gave
[* 72] We have elsewhere expressed the opinion that a statute cannot be declared void because opposed to a supposed general intent or spirit which it is thought pervades or lies con- [* 73] cealed in the Constitution, but wholly unexpressed, or be
them birth. On account of these children, and for them only, we hesitate. And in view of this, we are constrained to content ourselves with simply declaring that the exercise of the power of granting divorces, on the part of the legislature, is unwarranted and unconstitutional, an encroachment upon the duties of the judiciary, and a striking down of the dearest rights of individuals, without authority of law. We trust we have said enough to vindicate the Constitution, and feel confident that no department of state has any disposition to violate it, and that the evil will cease.” So in Johnson v. Joliet and Chicago Railroad Co., 23 III. 207, the question was whether railroad corporations could be created by special law, without a special declaration by way of preamble that the object to be accomplished could not be attained by general law. The court say: “ It is now too late to make this objection, since by the action of the General Assembly under this clause, special acts have been so long the order of the day and the ruling passion with every legislature which has convened under the Constitution, until their acts of this description fill a huge and misshapen volume, and important and valuable rights are claimed under them. The clause has been wholly disregarded, and it would now produce far-spread ruin to declare such acts unconstitutional and void. It is now safer and more just to all parties, to declare that it must be understood, that in the opinion of the General Assembly, at the time of passing the special act, its object could not be attained under the general law, and this without any recital by way of preamble, as in the act to incorporate the Central Railroad Company. That preamble was placed there by the writer of this opinion, and a strict compliance with this clause of the Constitution would have rendered it necessary in every subsequent act. But the legislature, in their wisdom, have thought differently, and have acted differently, until now our special legislation and its mischiefs are beyond recovery or remedy." These cases certainly presented very strong motives for declaring the law to be wbat it was not; but it would have been interesting and useful if either of these learned courts bad enumerated the evils that must be placed in the opposite scale when the question is whether a constitutional rule shall be disregarded; not the least of which is, the encouragement of a disposition on the part of legislative bodies to set aside constitutional restrictions, in the belief that, if the unconstitutional law can once be put in force, and large interests enlisted under it, the courts will not venture to declare it void, but will submit to the usurpation, no matter how gross and daring. We agree with the Supreme Court of Indiana, that in construing constitutions, courts have nothing to do with the argument ab inconvenienti, and should not “ bend the Constitution to suit the law of the hour." Greencastle Township v. Black, 5 Ind. 565; and with Bronson, Ch. J., in what he says in Oakley v. Aspinwall
, 3 N. Y. 568: “It is highly probable that inconveniences will result from following the Constitution as it is written. But that cause, in the opinion of the court, it violates fundamental rights or principles, if it was passed in the exercise of a power which the Constitution confers. Still less will the injustice of a constitutional provision authorize the courts to disregard it, or indirectly to annul it by construing it away. It is quite possible that the people may, under the influence of temporary prejudice, or mistaken view of public policy, incorporate provisions in their charter of government, infringing upon the right of the individual man, or upon principles which ought to be regarded as sacred and fundamental in republican government; and quite possible also that obnoxious classes may be unjustly disfranchised. The remedy for such injustice must rest with the people themselves, through an amendment of their work when better. counsels prevail. Such provisions, when free from doubt, must receive the same construction as any other. We do not say, however, that if a clause should be found in a constitution which should appear at first blush to de
consideration can have no force with me. It is not for us, but for those who made the instrument, to supply its defects. If the legislature or the courts' may take that office upon themselves, or if, under color of construction, or upon any other specious ground, they may depart from that which is plainly declared, the people may well despair of ever being able to set any boundary to the powers the government. Written constitutions will be more than useless. Believing as I do that the success of free institutions depends upon a rigid adherence to the fundamental law, I have never yielded to considerations of expediency in expounding it. There is always some plausible reason for latitudinarian constructions which are resorted to for the purpose of acquiring power; some evil to be avoided or some good to be attained by pushing the powers of the government beyond their legitimate boundary. It is by yielding to such influences that constitutions are gradually undermined and finally overthrown. My rule has ever been to follow the fundamental law as it is written, regardless of consequences. If the law does not work well, the people can amend it; and inconveniences can be borne long enough to await that process. But if the legislature or the courts undertake to cure defects by forced and unnatural constructions, they inflict a wound upon the Constitution which nothing can heal. One step taken by the legislature or the judiciary, in enlarging the powers of the government, opens the door for another which will be sure to follow; and so the process goes on until all respect for the fundamental law is lost, and the powers of the government are just what those in authority please to call them.” Whether there may not be circumstances under which the State can be held justly estopped from alleging the invalidity of its own action in apportioning the political divisions of the State, and imposing burdens on citizens, where such action has been acquiesced in for a considerable period, and rights have been acquired through bearing the burdens under it, see Ramsey v. People, 19 N. Y. 41; People v. Maynard, 15 Mich. 470; Kneeland v. Milwaukee, 15 Wis. 454.
mand a construction leading to monstrous and absurd consequences, it might not be the duty of the court to question and cross-question such clause closely, with a view to discover in it, if possible, some other meaning more consistent with the general purposes and aims of these instruments. When such a case arises, it will be time to consider it.1
Duty in Case of Doubt.
But when all the legitimate lights for ascertaining the meaning of the Constitution have been made use of, it may still happen that the construction remains a matter of doubt. In such a case it seems clear that every one called upon to act where, in his * opinion, the proposed action would be of doubtful [* 74] constitutionality, is bound upon the doubt alone to abstain from acting. Whoever derives power from the Constitution to perform any public function is disloyal to that instrument, and grossly derelict in duty, if he does that which he is not reasonably satisfied the Constitution permits. Whether the power be legislative, executive, or judicial, there is manifest disregard of constitutional and moral obligation by one who, having taken an oath to observe that instrument, takes part in an action which he cannot say he believes to be no violation of its provisions. A doubt of the constitutionality of any proposed legislative enactment should in any case be reason sufficient for refusing to adopt it; and, if legislators do not act upon this principle, the reasons upon which are based the judicial decisions sustaining legislation in very many cases will cease to be of force.
Directory and Mandatory Provisions. The important question sometimes presents itself, whether we are authorized in any case, when the meaning of a clause of the Constitution is arrived at, to give it such practical construction as will leave it optional with the department or officer to which it is addressed to obey it or not as he shall see fit. In respect to statutes it has long been settled that particular provisions may be regarded as directory merely; by which is meant that they are to be considered as giving directions which ought to be followed, but
McMullen v. Hodge, 5 Texas, 34. See Clarke v. Irwin, 5 Nev. 111.
not as so limiting the power in respect to which the directions are given that it cannot be effectually exercised without observing them. The force of many of the decisions on this subject will be readily assented to by all; while others are sometimes thought to go to the extent of nullifying the intent of the legislature in essential particulars. It is not our purpose to examine the several cases critically, or to attempt - what we dcem impossible — to reconcile them all; but we shall content ourselves with quoting from a few, with a view, if practicable, to ascertaining some line of principle upon which they can be classified.
There are cases where, whether a statute was to be regarded as merely directory or not, was made to depend upon the employing or failing to employ negative words which imported that the act
should be done in a particular manner or time, and not [* 75] * otherwise. The use of such words is often very con
clusive of an intent to impose a limitation, but their absence is by no means equally conclusive that the statute was not designed to be mandatory. Lord Mansfield would have the question whether mandatory or not depend upon whether that which was directed to be done was or was not of the essence of the thing required. The Supreme Court of New York, in an opinion afterwards approved by the Court of Appeals, laid down the rule as one settled by authority, that “ statutes directing the mode of proceeding by public officers are directory, and are not regarded as essential to the validity of the proceedings themselves, unless it be so declared in the statute." 4 This rule strikes us as very general, and as likely to include within its scope, in many cases, things which are of the very essence of the proceeding. The questions in that case were questions of irregularity under election laws, not in any way hindering the complete expression of the will of the electors; and the court was doubtless right in holding that the election was not to be avoided for a failure in the officers appointed for its conduct to comply in all respects with the directions of the statute there in question. The same court in another case say: “ Statutory requisitions are deemed directory only when they
Slayton v. Hulings, 7 Ind. 144; King v. Inbabitants of St. Gregory, 2 Ad. & El. 99; King v. Inhabitants of Hipswell, 8 B. & C. 466.
· District Township v. Dubuque, 7 Iowa, 28+.